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1. JUAN PLACIDO was born a slave on the estate of Don Terribio de Castro. His father was an African, his mother a mulatto. His mistress treated him with great kindness, and taught him to read. When he was twelve years
she died, and he fell into other and less compassionate hands. At the
age of eighteen, on seeing his mother struck with a heavy whip, he for the first time turned upon his tormentors.
2. To use his own words, “I felt the blow in my heart. To utter a loud cry, and from a downcast boy, with the timidity of one weak as a lamb, to become all at once like a raging lion, was the thing of a moment.” He was, however, subdued, and the next morning, together with his mother, a tenderly nurtured and delicate woman, severely scourged.
3. On seeing his mother rudely stripped and thrown down upon the ground, he at first, with tears, implored the overseer to spare her; but at the sound of the first blow, as it cut into her naked flesh, he sprang once more upon the ruffian, who, having superior strength, beat him until he was nearer dead than alive.
4. After suffering all the vicissitudes of slavery — hunger, nakedness, stripes ; after bravely and nobly bearing up against that slow, dreadful process which reduces the man to a thing — the image of God to a piece of merchandise, until he had reached his thirty-eighth year, he was unexpectedly released from his bonds. Some literary gentlemen in Havana, into whose hands two or three pieces of his composition had fallen, struck with the vigor, spirit and natural grace which they manifested, sought out the author, and raised a subscription to purchase his freedom.
5. He came to Havana, and maintained himself by housepainting, and such other employments as his ingenuity and talents placed within his reach. He wrote several poems which have been published in Spanish at Havana, and translated by Dr. Madden, under the title of “ Poems by a Slave." The best is entitled Cuba. Witness its majestic commencement:
6. Cuba ! - of what avail that thou art fair?
Pearl of the seas ! — the pride of the Antilles !
The pangs of bondage, and its thousand ills ?
Of what avail the verdure of thy hills ? –
The cane's luxuriant growth, whose culture fills
7. Of what avail that thy clear streams abound
With precious ore, if wealth there 's none to buy
For Learning's shrine, or for the altar nigh
Of poor, forsaken, downcast Liberty ? -
Forests of masts, and ships from every sea,
8. Cuba! 0, Cuba! when men call thee fair,
And rich, and beautiful, the Queen of Isles,
0, say to those who mock thee with such wiles :
Take off these flowers, and view the lifeless spoils
The pale, cold cheek; and seek for living smiles
9. The disastrous result of the late insurrection of the slaves in Cuba is well known. Betrayed, and driven into premature collision with their oppressors, the wronged and maddened bondmen were speedily crushed into subjection, Placido was arrested, and, after a long hearing, was condemned to be executed, and consigned to the “Chapel of the Condemned."
10. How far Placido was implicated in the insurrectionary movement, it is now perhaps impossible to ascertain. The popular voice at Havana pronounced him its leader and projector; and as such he was condemned. His own bitter wrongs; the terrible recollections of his life of servitude; the sad condition of his relatives and race, exposed to scorn, contumely, and the heavy hand of violence; the impunity with which the most dreadful outrages upon the persons of slaves were inflicted, — acting upon a mind fully capable of appreciating the beauty and dignity of freedom, furnished abundant incentives to an effort for the redemption of his race, and the humiliation of his oppressors.
11. The Heraldo, of Madrid, speaks of him as “ the celebrated poet, a man of great natural genius, and beloved and appreciated by the most respectable young men of Havana." It accuses him of wild and ambitious projects, and states that he was intended to be the chief of the black race after they had thrown off the yoke of bondage.
12. He was executed at Havana, in the 7th month, 1844. According to the custom in Cuba with condemned criminals, he was conducted from prison to the “Chapel of the Doomed." He passed thither with singular composure, amidst a great concourse of people, gracefully saluting his numerous acquaintances. The chapel was hung with black cloth, dimly lighted. Placido was seated beside his coffin. Priests in long black robes stood around him, chanting in sepulchral voices the service of the dead. It is an ordeal under which the stoutest-hearted and most resolute have been found to sink.
13. After enduring it for twenty-four hours, he was led out to execution. Placido came forth calm and undismayed ; holding a crucifix in his hand, he recited in a loud, clear voice a solemn prayer in verse, which he had composed amidst the horrors of the “Chapel.” It thrilled upon the hearts of all who heard it. I am indebted to a friend for assistance in rendering this remarkable prayer into English
PRAYER OF PLACIDO.
14. God of unbounded love and power eternal !
To Thee I turn in darkness and despair ;
Of calumny the veil of justice tear!
15. 0, King of kings! — my father's God !-- who only
Art strong to save, by whom is all controlled,
Abyss of heaven its light, the North its cold,
16. All things obey Thee; dying or reviving
As thou commandest; all, apart from Thee,
Sink and are lost in vast eternity!
17. O, merciful God! - I cannot shun Thy presence,
For through its veil of flesh, Thy piercing eye
As through the pure transparence of the sky;
18. But, if, alas, it seemeth good to Thee
That I should perish as the guilty dies,
With hateful malice and exulting eyes,
19. On arriving at the fatal spot, he sat down as ordered, on a bench, with his back to the soldiers. The multitude recollected, that, in some affecting lines, written by the conspirator in prison, he had said that it would be useless to seek to kill him by shooting his body — that his heart must be pierced ere it would cease its throbbings. At the last moment, just as the soldiers were about to fire, he rose up and gazed for an instant around and above him, on the beautiful capital of his native land, and its sail-flecked bay, on the dense crowds about him, the blue mountains in the distance, and the sky glorious with the summer sunshine.
20. “Adios mundo!” (farewell, world!) he said, calmly, and sat down. The word was given, and five balls entered his body. Then it was, that, amidst the groans and murmurs of the horror-stricken spectators, he rose up once more and turned his head to the shuddering soldiers, his face wearing an expression of superhuman courage. “Will no one pity me?” he said, laying his hand over his heart. • Here, fire here!"
21. While he yet spake, two balls entered his heart, and he fell dead. Thus perished the hero poet of Cuba. He has not fallen in vain. His genius and his heroic death will doubtless be regarded by his race as precious legacies. To the great names of L'Ouverture and Petion, the colored man can now add that of Juan Placido.
THE INVENTIVE GENIUS OF LABOR.
1. The physical necessity of mental activity, in every practical
upon the mind the power to determine our stature, strength and longevity ; to multiply our organs of sense, and increase their capacity, in some cases, to